We’ve recently returned from a holiday in the Cotswolds. Snowshill, where we stayed, was almost painfully picturesque. Golden stone cottages encircled a pretty church and there was even a working red telephone box. The entire hamlet could probably be mistaken for a Olde Englande theme park created just for the Instagram likey-love. We had a meal at the small but friendly pub over the road from our cottage, which unexpectedly had some genuine locals propping up the bar gossiping about rural affairs, like cliches from the Archers.
But we needn’t have strayed so far from home, as the Isle of Wight is not without its pretty villages. Shanklin and Godshill could give Snowshill a run for its money if the wow-factor was measured in thatch. Even without much evidence of this rustic roofing material, quaint Yarmouth manages to seduce tourists with its narrow streets, Tudor castle and ceremonial fist. But this (second) smallest town in England is not pickled in aspic waiting for visitors. Like Snowshill, it is a working place, with an active harbour, an exciting new vintage car boot sale and that glove on a stick.
Sure, there are some very fancy visitor-friendly restaurants in town and there are also places patronised by locals. We’d had a busy afternoon in West Wight inflating flamingos (long story) so when we wanted a bite of supper we popped into the King’s Head to see what was on the menu.
Before we even sat down we were delighted to meet an old friend – pub manager and local character Adrian Evans. We first met him when he was working at the Hambrough, Ventnor; then after a stint at the George, Yarmouth he ended up at the nearby Wheatsheaf – and now he’s running the King’s Head himself. So there’s an experienced hand at the helm, and we found a confident, busy pub with a cheerful and comfortable environment. Like the Snowshill Arms, it was clearly a popular place frequented by the indigenous population. Locals with dogs were chatting, drinkers were at the bar, families were relaxing over meals – it was far from a stuffy gastro-dining atmosphere.
Halloumi burger £9.95
Double civil war burger £12.50
A sensible pub grub menu featured the usual pie, battered fish and burgers, plus a few slightly more ambitious extras like salt beef salad and smoked haddock fishcakes. This was just what we were looking for. Getting in a pint of cider, Matt couldn’t turn down a double Civil War Burger. Civil War eh? This may answer a long-pondered question – just how long do you have to leave after a murderous war before you can name a burger after it? We were comfortable with 350 years; although we might have frowned if anyone had offered a Gallipoli burger. And really nobody would really want a Desert Storm burger, would they? Though perhaps in 2350 they’ll be wolfing them down.
With BBQ pulled pork, ‘slaw and chips, the substantial burger was highly satisfactory, with two onion rings on the top in what was surely a reference to the characteristic cavalier’s hat of the 1640s. The ingredients were straightforward enough, but simple food served well is always a winner with Matt, and so it proved here. The skin-on chips particularly were plentiful, hot, and cooked to a turn. Cat made a similar foray into burger territory, but in her case went for the veggie burger option – no, not one of these sad deep-fried vegetable patties but fresh, tasty roasted halloumi and red pepper. The ‘burger’ was presented in a floured bap and garnished with spinach, garlic mayo and a brace of onion rings. Catching up with the modern trend of not using plates, Cat’s burger came on a long, paddle-like board, bun at one end and an enamel beaker of chips the other. To be frank, it wasn’t the easiest of things to eat from; tipping out her chips a fair few missed the plank and ended up on the table. They weren’t wasted, of course, she was just careful about how she pushed around her meal. The pepper was certainly softly-cooked but might have benefitted from that nice slightly-charred finished that roasted vegetables often display. Nonetheless it was a generous allowance of halloumi and both of us were quite full after our mains.
If we hadn’t been so well-fed, we’d have probably had a go at the tempting pudding menu. You already know what’s on it, but in case you can’t guess, King’s Head desserts include apple and blackberry crumble, banoffee pie, and chocolate sundae. As it was, we were satiated and happy, and after saying our farewells to our cheery host we were back out in the streets of Yarmouth, glancing across the road to where the beautiful people were still dining in splendour in a grand hotel. Did they have as good a time as we did at the King’s head? Hard to say, but we were happy with our choice.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.